Ding ding ding … Round 2
It seems so unexpected, but when you slow it down, digest it, examine and even dissect it, it’s true. It’s actually happening.
The USF women’s basketball team has now notched itself a postseason win, its first ever.
In 33 years, the Bulls made the postseason — following many conference tournaments in Sun Belt, Metro and the final year of C-USA this year — just once. In 2004 — just last year — the postseason run ended quickly with a 66-53 loss to Richmond in the first round of the WNIT.
It seems unexpected, like something in a Disney sequel — something that shouldn’t have happened at all.
But it has. It keeps going like a marathon.
A 21-10 season — the team’s best ever — is more than coach Jose Fernandez could have asked for. When he first became the coach after the hot-seat firing of Jerry Ann Winters, Fernandez pumped out the worst season — 4-24, and 1-15 in conference play — in the program’s history.
An embarrassing end to an embarrassing beginning.
Sure, many blame the team that he inherited, and that’s probably accurate, but the very next year in 2001-02, the Bulls scratched out 14 wins.
He’s turned the team around and made it the talk of March Madness for USF.
Forget your broken brackets and those debacle debates at the water coolers.
Thursday night’s 61-56 win over instate rival Florida was just another point to the cause, though Fernandez just counts it as another win on the stat sheet.
“It’s just number 21,” Fernandez said. “We have to look past that and forget about that because Wake Forest is next. They were 3-11 in the ACC, but this should be a good, competitive game.”
Good and competitive are two understatements Fernandez likes to make from time to time. The Demon Deacons scored 100 points against Charlotte. Their redshirt sophomore, Porsche Jones, had 29 points, her very own career high. She’s the Forest’s very own version of Jessica Dickson.
Though Fernandez is right.
The Deacons are 3-11 in the ACC and barely finished with a .500 record — this season being their first winning season since 1992 — but since Friday when they gave USF 100 reasons to keep taking this game seriously, the Bulls, like they have for every team they faced this year, will not be taking the Deacons lightly.
But the team has been excited. How couldn’t the players be? Fernandez couldn’t sit still against the Gators. He couldn’t even keep his jacket on during the game.
“Yeah, we’ve all been pretty excited. You saw me coach for the first time without my jacket,” he said. “Though we have to put that behind us. We really do. We can’t just stop and be excited. We have a game to play.”
The Bulls have only faced the Deacons twice before, splitting those games. USF beat Wake Forest on Jan. 5, 1983, 69-53, when the Bulls didn’t even have a conference yet.
But that was 22 years ago — when many of us weren’t even alive — and this is now. This is Fernandez’s team, which has 21 wins. A team with a sophomore with more than 1,000 points in her career, though she only has 39 through three games after scoring 34 in the last game of the season.
A team with only two seniors, one who starts every game, talks the talk, who knows how a championship tastes and has that lingering aftertaste.
This team has it all.
More than it even expected.
But it learned something this year: No matter what happens, strive to be unexpected to everyone.